The FAA approved a request to extend NBAA's small aircraft exemption for another 12 months, expiring on March 31, 2016, the association announced on March 30. Available only to NBAA members operating in the U.S., Exemption 7897F allows Part 91 operators of small aircraft (mtows of 12,500 pounds or less) to take advantage of the flexibility usually offered to operators of larger, turbine-powered airplanes.
This includes use of alternative maintenance programs and limited cost reimbursement for certain flights as permitted under FAR Part 91, Subpart F. It also applies to the use of time-sharing, interchange and joint-ownership agreements that are typically reserved only for aircraft with an mtow of more than 12,500 pounds; multi-engine turbojet aircraft, regardless of size; and fractional program aircraft. However, the NBAA exemption does not apply to Part 135 operations or fractional operators.
"NBAA is pleased that the FAA continues to recognize the importance of this tool to NBAA member business aircraft owners seeking to maximize the efficiency and usability of a small aircraft," said NBAA vice president of regulatory and international affairs Doug Carr.
Many aircraft that use the small aircraft exemption fly to international locations, and the FAA is also reviewing NBAA's request to remove a previously imposed limitation that barred use of the exemption for operations conducted outside the U.S. However, the FAA first wants to ensure that removing this limitation would comply with ICAO standards.
The crash of the GermanWings A320 from apparent pilot suicide will refocus many minds on the unexplained disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 just over a year ago. One of the many theories about MH370 that has gained currency is that pilot-in-command Capt. Zahari Shah was responsible. Perhaps an "insider" hijacking that went wrong. I have just returned from two weeks in Malaysia, where I learned more about Captain Zahari and his controversial connection to the opposition political party there.
On the anniversary of the disappearance, the Malaysian Ministry of Transport issued a "Factual Information" report by the Malaysian ICAO Annex 13 Safety Investigation Team. This 585-page report, compiled with the help of accident investigators from seven other countries, purports to describe the progress of the investigation. It brings into one report much of the information that has already been released over the past year. Unfortunately, it contains little or no information on two important aspects of the incident, which have a bearing on the theories that pilot intervention caused MH370 to disappear.
First, it notes that the last transmission from the aircraft communications and addressing reporting system (ACARS) was 25 minutes into the flight, after which it ceased to report. There is no discussion in this report about how this might have occurred. If ACARS was disabled, was specialist engineering knowledge required? Was access to an equipment bay required? It was another 13 minutes before the transponder stopped operating.
Second, although there is reference to the police investigation of the flight crew's financial circumstances, that included searches of the homes of the flight crew, there is no mention of the discovery in Zahari's house of a home-built flight simulator, or its subsequent examination. So we must still rely on last year's unofficial leaks from the police to local media for the knowledge that Zahari had constructed flight plans to airfields in and around the Indian Ocean on this simulator.
What else do we know that supports the theory of pilot intervention? Well, Zahari was a strong supporter of the People's Justice Party (Malaysian acronym PKR), led by Malaysia's embattled opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim. The Malaysian government has been trying to silence the opposition for years and allegedly has corrupted the judiciary in order to do so. (I should make clear that the PKR is not an Islamist party). In fact, Zahari is a distant relative of Anwar.
The day before MH370 took off, Anwar was sentenced to five years in jail on a charge of sodomy, which is illegal in Malaysia. Just a coincidence? Or the trigger for some act of retribution by a disaffected citizen against the Malaysian state?
Last year, some senior Malaysian government officials briefed unofficially that they blamed the pilots for the disappearance. Last week, I was told by a reliable source close to the airline that at least one senior Malaysian Airlines manager who has known Zahari for many years believes that he was responsible for the disappearance. This opinion is not based on some secret known only to insiders, that the captain was in some way mentally unstable. Rather, it derives from the senior manager's assessment of his character and experience. Zahari apparently knew more about the 777 and its workings than any other flightcrew at the airline. He had flown the 777 for 17 years and was an almost obsessive enthusiast for flying. Hence the home-based flight simulator.
Of course, this is all circumstantial evidence. It no doubt grieves Zahari's mourning family to have such evidence aired publicly. The senior Malaysian Airlines manager might be a strong supporter of the government party, looking to scapegoat the opposition. Theories involving some sort of onboard electrical fire-perhaps in the avionics bay-that propagated only so far as to disable communications, and all those onboard, have equal currency. But in the absence of any firm evidence, speculation is inevitable.
A few weeks ago, National Geographic released a documentary on MH370. You can find it on YouTube. After reviewing various scenarios, it opted for this one: as MH370 crossed the FIR boundary between Malaysia and Vietnam and said goodbye to the Kuala Lumpur Control, Zahari asked his copilot to fetch him a cup of coffee. The captain locked the cockpit door after the copilot left, donned his oxygen mask and depressurized the jet. This disabled all those travelling behind him. He then flew the aircraft (with the aid of the FMS) until his oxygen ran out. That would explain the three turns MH370 made in the hour following last contact that have been reconstructed from two sources: the analysis of primary radar recordings of an unidentified aircraft that crossed the Malaysian peninsula before heading northwest toward the Andaman Sea, plus the satellite "handshakes" calculated by Inmarsat.
Dassault Falcon Service (DFS) recently completed the first scheduled C-check on a Falcon 7X, preparing the way for the start of routine overhauls on the trijet. C-checks are the largest scheduled maintenance events on the Falcon 7X and are due every eight years or 4,000 cycles, whichever comes first. The 7X entered service in 2007.
Although Falcon 7X fleet leaders have not quite reached this limit, DFS moved up the first inspection timeline slightly "to demonstrate and optimize the quality of the Falcon 7X overhaul process." A second DFS 7X C-check-including a full cabin renovation, installation of an enhanced vision system and overhaul work-is already under way, with others scheduled to follow by midyear.
According to DFS, the aircraft involved in the initial C-check is seven years old and has 1,340 cycles. The inspection, carried out at the company's Paris Le Bourget facility, also included renovating the interior, repainting the exterior and installing a satcom unit and onboard Wi-Fi system.
"All the expertise needed for C-checks-maintenance, engineering, customer support, spare parts, cabin refurbishment-is available right here at Le Bourget or at the nearby Dassault Aviation design office in Paris, permitting the quick reactivity operators demand in the overhaul process," said DFS general manager Jean Kayanakis.
The company has invested in preparing the 7X C-check program, including two dedicated hangars at Le Bourget that are staffed in double shifts. A second facility in Bordeaux-Mérignac that is set to open next year will be equipped to handle six aircraft simultaneously. It will also include a paint hangar.
A tentative decision by the U.S. Department of Transportation to allow Delta Air Lines to retain its rights to fly between Seattle and Tokyo Haneda Airport has drawn fire from Hawaiian Airlines, which sought to replace the Delta service with regular flights between Kona, Hawaii, and the congested Japanese gateway. The DOT also chose American Airlines to assume the route if Delta does not uphold its commitment to provide daily uninterrupted service, in a ruling that Hawaiian said unfairly dismissed the value of its proposed service.
American and Hawaiian both tried to wrest control of the highly sought-after route from Delta after the Atlanta-based airline temporarily curbed service during its seasonal winter lull. In order to retain its rights to the route, Delta had to agree to fly between Seattle and Haneda every day of the year.
For its part, Hawaiian expressed "disappointment" that the DOT rejected its plan to fly between Kona and Haneda. "Hawaiian is the only airline to have operated Haneda service continuously and successfully since the slot rights were granted," said Hawaiian CEO Mark Dunkerly in a written statement. "Out proposal provided more seats and would have resulted in more travelers flying between Japan and the United States than either Delta's or American's proposal. Kona is the largest unserved market in this proceeding, and Hawaiian's proposed route would have generated more economic benefit than that offered by either Delta or American. None of theses facts are in dispute by the DOT."
The DOT, said Hawaiian, dismissed its proposal primarily because it considered it "additive" to the routes to Haneda it already flies from Honolulu. The airline charged the DOT with perpetuating "institutional bias" that favors the interests of U.S. business travelers over those of travelers in general. In fact, in its order, the DOT said Kona-Haneda service would largely benefit Japanese-originating leisure traffic, which, while important for promoting increased international tourism and economic activity in Hawaii, minimizes Haneda's advantages to U.S. travelers in general, and U.S. business travelers in particular.
"Hawaiian will be considering its next steps in the proceeding in the coming days," concluded Dunkerly.